Tuesday, October 30, 2012

5 Workout Lessons I've Learned From My Dog

Six weeks ago I adopted my new little buddy - a 6-year-old pit mix, Addie.

Addie on a hike in Shenandoah Valley...

I've always known that you can learn a lot from dogs, but I never thought about how much we can learn from dogs about working out.  Here are some things I've learned from Addie:  

1.  Always start out slow, with a plan:  When I first started running with Addie, I stupidly thought "she's a dog, she can just run."  Not true.  Dogs, like humans, need to work up slowly.  They have to condition their hearts, lungs, muscles, and paws to the activity level.  Both dogs and humans need to make sure that their healthy enough to work out.  Then, both the dogs and the humans need to ease into the workout -- a concept that a lot of athletes ignore.  

Because I'm still coping with some muscular issues around my knee, I've made sure to ease back into running and increase my mileage slowly.  But some days, I want to say screw it and just go run.  Fortunately, Addie serves as a reminder to hold back.  Since I don't have a training plan right now, I'm sticking with the usual "10% rule" for increasing my running time.  But for Addie, she actually has a training plan I found online called Pooch to 5k, which is based on time and starts with run/walk.  So although Addie's 5k training program is different from mine, we're on about the same track, which keeps me from wanting to do too much too fast for my training.    

2.  Take water:  Usually, if I'm running under an hour, I don't take anything to drink unless it's a particularly hot or humid day.  Dogs, however, especially pitbull types like Addie or other snubnose dogs, will need water more than humans.  So even when Addie goes for 20-minute run, I take water.  Honestly, it doesn't hurt to take water for yourself, even on your shorter runs because chances are you're slightly dehydrated.  Unless you're super vigilant and drink the recommended eight 8-oz glasses of water a day, you're most likely dehydrated, especially if you're running first thing in the morning.  So take a small Fuel Belt for you and the dog.  

3.  Enjoy your surroundings:  Leave the headphones at home.  The outside world has so many sights and sounds that can occupy your attention when you're running outside.  Just watch a dog when she's outside...Every time Addie is outside, it's like she's in her own little bubble with amazing new wonders at every tree and corner.  The world is hers to explore.  So whether you're running in the city or the country, let your surroundings be your entertainment.  By really focusing on every site, sound, and smell that your senses can absorb, it can be even more meditative than listening to music. 

4.  Streeetch in the morning:  I now understand where the yoga term "downward dog" comes from.  Every single morning, the first thing Addie does before she takes more than two steps is stretch.  She starts with downward dog (with her head down and butt up in the air), then does a vinyasa flow move into a cobra-style pose with her butt down, back arched, and head up.  Just watching her you can see how she absorbs every stretch of every muscle and lets the energy start flowing through her body.  What a restorative way to start the day!!  If you want a great, gentle stretching routine to warm up your body in the morning, try this Good Morning Yoga Sequence from Mind Body Green, which takes only 10-15 minutes and is a wonderful way to start your day.  

5.  Take naps:  This is simple:  dogs sleep when they're tired.  Addie especially likes a nap after her runs.  For humans it should be simple too:  If you're tired, take a nap.  WebMD explains that a 20-minute power nap will help restore your alertness and motor skills.  And if you can snuggle up with your dog for that nap...even better!!  

Do you work out with your pet?  If so, what lessons have you learned?          


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate: A Sweet Way to Recover

Here's a quick recovery and nutrition tip:

My physical therapist recently turned me onto tart cherry juice concentrate.

What is it? 

Two tablespoons of tart cherry juice concentrate contains about 60 cherries...badda bing!

What does it do?

  • contains powerful phytonutrients called anthocyanins - a fancy word for powerful little nutrients that are believed to help fight inflammation and reduce uric acid levels.  
  • rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, which can help fight harmful oxidants in the body
  • high levels of melatonin, which helps promote healthy sleep cycles
How and when do you drink it? 

I bought the brand Dynamic Health, which is certified organic tart cherry juice concentrate.

I love putting 2 TBS of this in club soda after a run.  It's refreshing and delicious...In fact, sometimes I have 2 glasses because it really hits the spot!!  You could also mix it in a smoothie or even pour it over ice cream!


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

THE RACE: Improving Your Breath For The Run And Beyond...

* This is for Sarah & Tammy...keep breathin...

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” –Hilary Cooper

I've always loved this quote; but, as wonderful as it is for a life mantra, it actually doesn't work that well for a running mantra.  A great run really shouldn't take your breath away, right?  Ideally, you want as much air as you can get!  Yet breathing is an oft overlooked part of running.  We work so hard to train our legs, our core, and our heart, but very few of us train our lungs and diaphragm to help with our breathing.   

Breathing 101:    

It's simple:  our bodies need oxygen.  When you're exercising or performing any strenuous activity, your muscles need more oxygen than when you're sedentary. Run up a hill, you start to breath harder because your muscles start working harder.  Run faster, same thing.  The more oxygen you're able to efficiently deliver to your muscles, the better and longer those muscles will be able to perform. 

Chest vs. Belly:  

While you're sitting there reading this, or next time you're out for a run, pay attention to your breathing.  Do you breath from your chest, or from your belly? Most of us are "chest-breathers," meaning that if you put one hand on your chest and the other hand on your belly, you would see the hand on your chest moving more than the hand on your belly.  Go out for a run, work up to a fast pace, then stop and do this.  Pay attention to which hand moves.  If you're a "belly breather," (or a "diaphragmatic breather") the hand on your belly should move while the hand on your chest stays still.  

Belly breathing is better.  Why?  You can move more oxygen through your body with belly breathing rather than chest breathing.  According to Livestrong.com, "[t]he upper 10 percent of your lungs transport around 6 mL of oxygen per minute while the lower 10 percent can transport around 40 mL per minute . . . ." When you're chest breathing, you're using only this upper 10 percent and taking short, shallow breaths.  With belly breathing, however, you're using that lower portion of your lungs that can transport more oxygen, while taking  longer deeper breaths to pull in more oxygen.    

Chest breathing is often associated with stress.  If you're chest breathing while running, your shoulders go up every time you breathe in, which causes tension and wasted energy.  When you're working on endurance, every little bit of energy you can conserve helps.   In addition, Livestrong explains that "[c]hronic stress eventually restricts the connective and muscular tissue in the chest, subsequently decreasing your chest's range-of-motion.  If your chest does not expand adequately, the amount of oxygen delivered to your tissues drops, negatively impacting your health."  Belly breathing, on the other hand, increases the amount of oxygen going to your heart and body, relaxes your body, and lowers your heart rate.   

Learning to Belly Breathe:  

Breathing usually is a very unconscious process.  But to improve your running endurance, you might want to start consciously thinking about your breathing. To do that, you'll want to practice standing still first. 

Stand with your feel shoulder-width apart.  Place your hand just below your ribs and inhale through your nose for three seconds, expanding your abdomen.  Hold for three seconds without exhaling any air.  Then take a second breath in for three seconds and feel your abdomen expand further.  Then exhale through your mouth and pull your your abdomen toward your back.  Practice this a few times to get the hang of it.  

Now for the run...The important thing to remember here is that it's better to breathe through your mouth when you're running.  Normally, we breathe through our nose, but for running it's better to breathe through your mouth to get more oxygen and release more carbon dioxide.  Plus, with your mouth slightly open (kind of like a dead fish) your face will be more relaxed.  

Start with a very slow jog.  Inhale for three seconds through your mouth, pushing your abdominal muscles out.  Hold it for three seconds (this is where it's important to be doing a very slow jog).  This gives the air a chance to move through the lungs.  Then push the breath out for five seconds by pushing your abdominal muscles in.  Obviously, this isn't a breathing pattern you can maintain once you start increasing the pace. So practice at this slow pace until the breathing becomes second-nature.  

Get in a Rhythm:  

Once the belly breathing becomes more natural, you can work on increasing your pace and coordinating the breath with your natural running rhythm.  Every runner has (or should have) a certain breathing rhythm when he or she runs. Check what your normal breathing pattern is (without worrying about belly breathing for a minute) by counting the number of steps it takes you to breathe in and the number it takes to breathe out when you're running.  Also pay attention to whether you strike with your left or right foot when you breathe in or out. Now try to develop a footfall/belly breathing pattern.  Start with a 2-2 pattern, where you breathe in on left-right, breathe out left-right (or vice-versa), making sure you're using your good belly breathing technique.  Then, as your belly breathing technique becomes more natural, try to increase to a 3-3 or 4-4 pattern.    

Additional Tips:  

The best rule of thumb to know if your breathing is under control is the "talk test."  Can you have a conversation when you're running?  If not, slow it down to a conversational pace.  

Also, Runners World has three great Pilates recommendations to help you improve your breathing, strengthen your diaphragm, and stretch your chest muscle.  Give them a try! 

This his how Addie practices belly breathing...

Breathing Beyond the Run

Don't leave your belly breathing behind when you take off your running shoes! The benefits of diaphragmatic breathing go well beyond the run and into the rest of your life.  Did you know that babies are natural belly breathers?  (Babies do so many things right!).  What makes us stop doing that natural form of breathing? One answer:  stress!  When you're stressed, you tend to chest breathe with very short, shallow breaths, which creates - you guessed it - more stress on your system.   NormalBreathing.com reports that nearly 50% of all adults have predominantly chest breathing when at rest.  According to NormalBreathing, chest breathing causes fundamental health issues that promote chronic disease, result in low oxygen levels, and cause lymphatic stagnation.  Belly breathing, however, creates superior oxygenation, massages the lymphatic system, and moves wastes from the vital organs that are just under the diaphragm (kidneys, liver, pancreas, etc.). 

So don't leave your belly breathing behind when you finish your run.  You have to keep training your diaphragm even when you're not running.  Lie or sit in a nice, quiet, comfortable place and practice your belly breathing (through your nose this time.  You can breathe through your nose when you're at rest).  Place one hand on your abdomen and the other on your chest and focus on expanding your abdomen to make your bottom hand move while your top hand stays still.  You can also lie on your back with 2-3 medium-sized books on your stomach and focus on raising the books about one inch when you inhale.  Practice this morning and night. Keep your breath smooth and don't strain.  To relax even further, make your exhale twice as long as your inhale.  Then, who knows...maybe your next step will be meditation!!  

If you can train yourself to belly breathe, both on and off the run, you'll be in for having a lot more moments in life that can take your breath away....

Are you a chest or belly breather?  Do you work on your breathing techniques?  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

PIT STOP: I'm Still Here...5 Quick Randoms...

Hey all...Just a quick note to say 5 quick things:

  1. I hope y'all are at or nearing the end of your racing seasons and that you had an awesome year!  Use this cooler weather to start ratcheting back and entering the off-season - which doesn't mean to be sedentary! 
  2. I've been pretty silent lately because I'm still trying to get my feet under me.  Haven't quite had the motivation to sit and write blogs, even though I feel I "should."  What this time has taught is that every time I say I "should," I probably need to be re-thinking my priorities.   There are lots of things on a consistent basis that we do because we think we "should" and it ends up adding a lot of stress.  We either need to eliminate the "should" in our life, or change our mentality about what we think we "should" do and try to make it something we "want" to do.  
  3. I recently adopted a new dog!  And what a difference she's made.  Her name is Addie and she's a 6-year-old pit mix.  I adopted her from the Stafford County Animal Shelter, which has to euthanize for space.  So she was 6th on the "all dogs go to Heaven" list.  But I saved her and, in the process, gave some breathing room to other poor souls on the list.  October is adopt a shelter pet month, so if you've been thinking about it, there's no better time! And what a great way to do something great for another living being, in addition to adding some love and laughs to your household!  I've also created a Facebook page for Addie and will soon have a blog for her to spread information about how wonderful and misunderstood pitbulls are, and provide other dog-friendly advice/education.  Stay tuned for her blog, but her Facebook page (where she already has 1/2 as many friends as I do!) is www.facebook.com/addiethepitmix
  4. I've been doing physical therapy for my knee issues that started earlier this year.  I think it's helping and would probably help more if I actually did the exercises every day like I'm supposed to!  But I did a 5k last weekend and it was my 2nd best 5k time ever, so hopefully that's a good sign!  One of the blogs I do want to do is about the exercises I've been using, so stayed tuned for this as well...
  5. A friend of mine completed the Grindstone 100-mile trail run this weekend (which was actually 102 miles!).  It took her 36.5 hours, over 2 nites, through some very grueling terrain.  I don't know how she did it!  In my mind, she's a true champion.  One definition of "champion" is a fighter or warrior.  She's also a Goddess - one who's admired and idolized and is a symbol of grace and beauty.  It's made me think about what goals I want to set to show off my Warrior Goddess.  Now that the race season is winding down, it's the perfect time to start thinking about your goals for next year so that you can plan your off-season accordingly.  
That's all for now...hopefully I'll be back soon...In the meantime, here are some questions and a picture of Addie: 

Addie is a 61-lb lap dog and total goofball...I'm so lucky to have found her!
1.  How was your race season?  What was your best race and why? 
2.  In what ways do you "should" yourself into doing things?  Are there "shoulds" that you could either eliminate or try to change to "wants?"
3.  Have you ever adopted a shelter pet?  Share pics if you have them!
4.  Have you suffered any injuries this season?  Have you recovered from them and, if so, how?
5.  What goals have you accomplished or can you set for yourself for next year to show your Warrior Goddess or Warrior God qualities?